Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: March 2015

Variations in workplace formality lead to cross-cultural differences

Business Travel 2A client with offices around the world recently asked me for assistance in resolving several communication issues that have arisen between their staff in different country locations. During my numerous conversations with leadership and field staff in this company, it occurred to me repeatedly that cross-cultural differences don’t just exist in companies that have global operations; they also apply to organizations that operate within just one country. The reason: our workforce today is global and culturally diverse; you don’t need to reach across a border to deal with people of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds!

In fact, I’ve written in the past about the importance of cultural context when communicating – remember when this cola advertisement that failed to deliver, and this toilet freshener product design that went horribly wrong? In this week’s blog posts, I thought I’d explore two examples Continue reading

Long-distance leadership? Insist that complaints be accompanied by recommended solutions

RemoteEmployeesEarlier this week, I started up a dialogue about how to facilitate working relationships when you have staff who work remotely and at a distance from their home office colleagues, and my first suggestion was to set expectations for work hours and communication standards. Here is a second idea to make long-distance leadership work more effectively: insist that complaints about problems must be accompanied by recommended solutions.

The unfortunate truth is that sometimes, when employees are remote, it becomes very easy for them to blame the “home office” for anything that goes wrong. Common refrains – “Oh the folks in the home office simply don’t understand what we do in the field” or “Great, here’s another stupid rule from the head office”. I suspect that if you have “virtual” staff, then you know exactly what I’m talking about! Continue reading

Long-distance leadership? Set expectations for work hours and communication standards

Businessman working in the drivers seat in his carIf you’re a manager who has staff that are located remotely, then you know that long-distance leadership has a whole different degree of complexity when it comes to communication and employee motivation. In the past, I’ve offered ideas to facilitate this kind of “virtual” leadership such as setting office hours, planning on at least one informal phone call a week, and obtaining written monthly progress reports, but it’s been a while since I’ve addressed this topic. The subject came up again with a client group recently, so I thought that I’d offer up two more ideas in this week’s blog posts. Here’s the first: set expectations, up front, about work hours, and standards for checking and responding to voice mail and e-mail.

One of the frequent complaints of employees who work on-site in the organization’s home office is that they can’t reach their off-site colleagues when they need to. Continue reading

Forced ranking is a foolish idea!

A few weeks ago, my blog post titled Ranking employees on a bell curve is a stupid practice! resulted a significant number of emails arriving on my desktop. Clearly this post got your attention! The vast majority who wrote were in agreement with me, and several went on to also talk about the practice of forced ranking. Forced ranking, in case you don’t know, is a “lighter” version of bell-curve ranking; it’s the process of comparing all your employees and putting them in order of best to worst. For the record, I think forced ranking is a foolish idea as well.

Let me be clear – I don’t have a problem with assessing an individual’s performance and recognizing that some employees are higher performers than others – I am certainly not a supporter of the “everyone is a winner” camp – but it’s the process of forcing every single person into a rank order that I find objectionable. My reason? Continue reading

Don’t let ego and pride get in the way of good leadership

curlingI don’t often follow the sport of curling, but something happened earlier this month during the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier that caught my attention – in fact, a prime example of good leadership in action. After a heartbreaking 8-4 loss on March 2 that put them in the dangerous position of not making the playoffs, Team Canada’s captain (skip), John Morris, made the decision to switch roles with Pat Simmons, one of the other three members on the team. He promoted Pat to the role of skip and took on the role of sweeper. Not only did John give up his leadership role, but if you’re familiar with curling, then you know that skips and sweeps do very different activities on the ice. When asked, John said “I feel we needed a bit of a spark out there and it felt great … I think this is our best chance right now.” It turned out to be the right decision. Team Canada won their game the next day, and subsequently went on to the win it all at the gold medal game on March 8.

What caught my attention was two-fold. First, that John Morris made the difficult decision to step down from his role as leader and hand the reins over to Pat Simmons, Continue reading

When you shift your perspective, you can change your reality

Blind_men_and_elephantI was reminded recently of the importance of being able to shift your perspective as a leader, and a parable about six blind men and an elephant that I first heard when I was a child came to mind. This parable actually has its roots in several religions of the Indian subcontinent, but the version I remember was from when I studied Jainism. The story narrates how six blind men were asked by the king to describe an elephant. Since none of the men had ever seen an elephant, in order to respond to the king’s question they had to walk up to the animal and touch it. The first man happened upon the elephant’s leg; so he described the elephant as a pillar. The second felt the tail; he pronounced it to be like a rope. The third walked up to the trunk, and said that the elephant was like a tree branch. The one who felt the ear said the elephant was like a hand fan; the one who felt the elephant’s belly said it was like a wall. And finally, the blind man who reached out and touched the elephant’s tusk, described it as a solid pipe. Upon hearing six different answers, the blind men were puzzled and turned to the king for an explanation. Continue reading

Use the company grapevine to your advantage

My latest column in The Globe & Mail‘s Leadership Lab series is out today!

Make the company grapevine work for you

Today’s focus is on the company grapevine (also known as the rumour mill and bush telegraph) which causes so much grief to so many managers and supervisors. My premise – don’t fight the grapevine, use it to your advantage! The company rumour mill is unavoidable, so smart leaders make it work for them!


I am very honoured that my columns for The Globe‘s Report on Business continue to garner so much interest. My hope is that I bring up a subject that resonates with many. And my objective is to get conversations started – that’s how we all become even better leaders than we already are! So as always, I eagerly await your reactions and perspectives. It’s a short read and I hope that you find it relevant and thought-provoking. Add your viewpoint to The Globe‘s website, or if you wish, drop me an email or send me a tweet (@mergespeaks).

And please help me get the word out and get the message to as many as possible … pass the link along to your staff and colleagues. I’d love their thoughts as well! Opposing viewpoints always welcome!

I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Here is a direct link to the article in case you need to cut and paste it elsewhere:

If sharing information is so valuable … why do so few people do it?

SharingKnowledgeA couple of years ago, I wrote briefly on the blog (and a lengthier article) about Don Tapscott’s 2006 bestseller Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (The benefits of mass collaboration), and a recent event got me thinking once again about the value of sharing information. In the book, Tapscott tells the story of how in 2000, Goldcorp’s CEO Rob McEwen bucked the trend in the conservative and highly-secretive gold mining industry and shared the company’s proprietary data with the world. As a result, he gained access to some of the most talented minds on the planet, almost all of which were outside the boundaries of his organization, and transformed his struggling $100 million company into a $9 billion mega force. McEwen had the foresight to realize that by sharing some of his closely-guarded intellectual property, he could harness the power of collective genius and capability, and thus, take his company to the cutting edge of innovation and wealth creation.

It’s now 2015, so you would expect that legions of leaders everywhere would have been motivated by McEwen’s amazing success to embrace the open sharing of information and expertise, right? Not so! Continue reading

Why new hires can be a huge advantage to your team

I was working with a group of supervisors and managers recently and one of them said something that caught my attention, only because it’s something I don’t hear very often. She said “I just love it when a new employee joins my team!” Usually, new hires (whether recent graduates or experienced hires from another organization) are viewed as an inconvenience – just another person to train and bring up to speed – but this manager’s enthusiasm about bringing a new employee on board made me pause and ask “Why?” Her answer, just as enlightening. Continue reading